Born and raised in Belize, Kareem graduated secondary school and was in college when he started hanging out with the wrong crowd.
During that time, Kareem’s father, who was a subcontractor, took him out of school and said,
“If it’s money you want, I will teach you what I know so you can always make your own money.”
During that time of learning subcontracting work, Kareem and his brother met a missionary group that was building a settlement in Belize and he and his brother were hired by the group to build houses for their community.
Kareem and his brother were well liked by the missionary group and, in 2000, the missionary sponsored Kareem and his brother to come to the United States to help build another community in Indiana.
In Indiana, Kareem and his brother experienced racism for the first time. Being foreigners and minorities working in rural Indiana, they were not accepted by the residents and were treated harshly.
Soon after, Kareem and his brother left Indiana. His brother got engaged and moved back to Belize and Kareem stayed on, moving to New York City.
In New York, Kareem finally felt comfortable living in the United States. “It was joyful” Kareem said, “I finally got to meet my people.” A large Belizean population in New York made it easier for Kareem to settle and establish roots.
Kareem spent the first seven years in New York living in Manhattan with his aunt and working odd jobs. He did such good work that he was recommended by his cousin to become the Super of his aunt’s building. Soon after, Kareem got his own apartment and was doing well with a good job, an apartment, and a new born baby girl.
Kareem’s journey took an unexpected turn when he got into a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. The police were called. As a result, Kareem was terminated from his job and lost his apartment. “My girl went to the shelter, I lost my family, I lost everything right there.”
Kareem started working at junkyards doing bodywork to make ends meet. He bought a car and lived in his car commuting to and from different junkyards for work.
“During that time, I wouldn’t say I was homeless, I was making ends meet. I didn’t live in the street, I worked, and I lived in my car.”
While living in his car he was engaged by Breaking Ground in Queens. Kareem was engaged multiple times by their outreach team. He was open to being helped and was taken to Urban Pathways’ Hegeman Safe Haven in Brooklyn. There Kareem learned about Urban Pathways and the UPwards Career Enhancement Program that would help him with finding a job.
Kareem signed up for the 12-week program that provides a comprehensive range of vocational rehabilitation services including career counselling, job training, internships, and referrals to educational programs. Participants have weekly classes they must attend that are taught by Career Development Specialists. These specialists assist the clients on both a one-on-one basis and in a group.
“Ms. Elaine is wonderful, I have to thank her for everything. After my Dad passed away it was hard. I was ready to quit but Ms. Elaine stuck with me and gave me confidence.”
Before his UPwards Program was completed, Kareem had secured a maintenance job in Brooklyn. He has been on the job for nine months and he loves it.
“Honestly, I see myself retiring right here at this job. They love me, I get paid well and I am happy.”
Kareem continues to keep in touch with his family back home in Belize. His father passed away four years ago and that continues to be hard for him, as he credits his father for teaching him everything he knows. Kareem is confident he will be moving into permanent housing soon and with his new job he is happy, confident, and thankful.
About Urban Pathways
Urban Pathways is a New York City-based, nonprofit organization that provides housing and support to homeless and at-risk adults throughout the Metropolitan area. Urban Pathways serves more than 3,700 homeless individuals a year and provides transitional, extended stay, and permanent housing to chronically homeless individuals.